Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Ultracompact Abridgement of "The Thought of Thomas Aquinas"

Below is an extreme abridgment of Brian Davies's acclaimed work, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas. A sentence has been selected from each of its 17 chapters. Interested readers are referred to Davies's lucid 376-page work.

Aquinas is not content simply to say that God is; he wants to explore the divine in as many ways as possible. Creation by God (the act of creating) is the making of something from nothing. And whatever God is, he is not dependent on anything for his existence. Further, what we say of God can be literally true, though the full reality signified by our words defies our comprehension.

God does not creatively will evil – all he wills is good; and he can only be said to will evil in the sense of permitting it, not in the sense of causing it directly. Aquinas believes that God is causally at work in the entire history of his created order, that he is absent from nothing, and that everything that happens is an expression of his will. The one God exists undivided as the simple source of all created perfection and existence.

Aquinas' philosophical case for ascribing will to God rests on his view of God's knowledge or understanding; and he develops it by drawing on the conclusion that God is wholly immutable. Providence governs all, but everything does not happen in accordance with natural necessity, and we need to allow for human freedom; yet even human freedom falls within the scope of providence since God works in everything.

For Aquinas, the heart of Christian teaching is the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the first specifically Christian topic he turns to in the Summa theologiae. We are embodied souls; and one of the things this means for him is that we have emotions or, as he calls them, passiones animae. Nothing short of God can satisfy people completely. Aquinas' position is that the Trinity makes us divine since God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brings us to the final or ultimate good or end of rational creatures, which is nothing less than God himself. Aquinas asserts that the theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity; these, he says, are the means by which we come to God by grace as opposed to nature.

In his Christology, Aquinas conceives of Christ as the definitive means by which creatures who have come from God return to their source. Christ was both a priest and a victim, and his work bore the character of sacrifice. By means of the sacraments, we live in Christ and he lives in us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kreeft vs. McDermott

In "A Shorter Summa", Peter Kreeft puts down Timothy McDermott's "Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation": "The Summa would lose much of its clarity and digestibility if it were homogenized into continuous, running prose, like watery stew. (A current British translation has done just that.)"

However, in the same introduction, Kreeft does praise W. Norris Clarke as being "the most Aquinas-like mind I know of all men living". Yet Clarke has nothing but praise for McDermott's translation: "The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas is presented in continuously flowing paragraphs with appropriate chapter headings, much more like the style of modern philosophers since Descartes...The real meat of St. Thomas Aquinas has been captured here with remarkable good judgment, and it is in fact a fresh and stimulating experience to read Aquinas' doctrine on a given point gathered all together."


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Plan for Aquinas

Here's my current thinking on how I will approach Aquinas.

First I will study Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. This will take me 2-3 years. It's quite a bit of time, but it's time well spent.

After that, I will probably study Brian Davies's exposition of Aquinas – The Thought of Thomas Aquinas – to correct misconceptions I have about Aquinas' thought.

From there, I might go on to studying Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings. Or I may go back to the Summa, in its unabridged form, in a recent translation, e.g., the Hackett Aquinas series.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Core Philosophical/Theological Reading

  1. Aristotle: The Desire to Understand
  2. Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings
  3. Bible - RSV 2nd Catholic Ed.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church
1 gives me a basis for the structure of reality. 2 broadens it to a Catholic understanding. 3 is Dei Verbum. 4 is a synthesis put forward by the Church.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Agony of Aquinas in Translation

I have been enjoying Jonathan Lear's "Aristotle: The Desire to Understand" so much more than when I was attempting to read Aristotle's original texts in translation, that I think I shall do the same with Aquinas; that is, reading Brian Davies's "The Thought of Thomas Aquinas" instead of Aquinas' original writings.

Why should I spend a decade reading the Summa Theologica, once through, with little understanding, when I can read Davies's work and gain immediate understanding, within a few months? I will not be able to say, "I read Aquinas." However, I will be able to understand his ideas and start contemplating them. With this goal in mind, reading Davies's work seems to be a reasonable approach.

And I can always go to the primary sources afterwards. Once I finish reading Lear and Davies, a logical next step would be Irwin and Fine's "Aristotle: Selections" and McDermott's "Summa Theologica: A Concise Translation".

It's the ideas that are important to me – to be able to take these great ideas and consider how to apply them to life. My goal is not to be an Aquinas/Aristotle scholar – to be one would need a vast quantity of time which I do not have.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How I Learn

By examples (inductive learning).

By drawing pictures (visual learning).

By discussing with others the ideas being studied.

By reading aloud.

By summarizing.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pathway to Aquinas

This is the series of books that I am using to understand Aquinas' thought.

  • Aristotle for Everybody (Adler)
  • Shorter Summa (Kreeft)
  • How to Read Aquinas (McDermott)
  • Aristotle: The Desire to Understand (Lear)
  • Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation (McDermott)
  • Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings (McDermott)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Books I don't have time to read (but wish I did)

  • Lourdes (Benson)
  • Song of Bernadette (DVD)
  • Speaking Clearly (Hahner)
  • Aristotle: Selections (Irwin and Fine)
  • Aquinas: Selections (McInerny)
  • Aristotle (Shields)
  • Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Kreeft and Tacelli)
  • After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Kerr)
  • Aeneid (transl. Fitzgerald)
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry (3rd ed.)
  • Jane Austen: The Complete Novels
  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare (ed. Bevington)
  • The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Davies)
  • The One and the Many (Clarke)
  • The Degrees of Knowledge (Maritain)
  • Plato: Complete Works
  • Analysis Patterns (Fowler)
  • Enterprise Integration Patterns (Hohpe and Woolf)
  • St. Dominic (Dorcy)
  • Life of St. Dominic (Jarrett)
  • Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (Di Lorenzo and Ventresca)
  • Introduction to Philosophy (Sullivan)
  • The Unity of Philosophical Experience (Gilson)
  • The Light of the World (Pope Benedict XVI)
  • The Lord (Guardini)
  • I Walked With Heroes (Romulo)
  • Aquinas (Feser)
  • God at the Ritz (Albacete)
  • Programming Pearls (Bentley)
  • Compilers (Aho)
  • The Art of Computer Programming, vol. 3: Sorting and Searching (Knuth)
  • The City of God Against the Pagans (transl. Dyson)
  • Small Is Beautiful (Schumacher)
  • Catherine of Siena (Undset)
  • The Imitation of Christ
  • The Cloud of Unknowing
  • The Spiritual Combat